6 Apps for Collecting Digital Inspiration

by on 4th June 2010 with 44 Comments

The online design community is simply overflowing with inspiration. Every day countless blog posts are being published showcasing 30-100 amazing examples of “insert item here.” Further, CSS galleries like our own contain hundreds or even thousands of great site designs.

With all this inspiration being tossed at you all the time, you need a way to catalogue and store it. Today we’ll look at a few tools out there that do exceptionally well at this very thing.

The Value of Inspiration

To cutoff anyone already forming an argument about the evils of design inspiration, here’s my preemptive rebuttal. It is without a doubt the case that galleries of inspiration serve as buffets for hack designers who simply ripoff the work of others. Further, overuse of inspiration can stifle your own creativity. However, this is a misuse of the system and does not merit eliminating inspiration altogether.

Examining good design is like ingesting nutritional content for your brain. Similar to browsing a dictionary to better your vocabulary, viewing excellent work done by others increases the breadth of your creativity. The key is to be inspired towards originality, not away from it.

When you see a horizontally scrolling website, don’t try to figure out how you can mimic it, instead consider how you can create a completely different take on the horizontal scroll. When you see a logo that uses negative space to create an arrow, don’t try to do the same thing slightly different so as not to be accused of anything, instead be inspired to think about negative space in new ways.

You simply can’t construct a logical argument against using design inspiration. Almost everything you create is somehow affected by things that you’ve seen in the past that impacted you in a certain way. You see a website that uses rounded corners, forget all about it, and six months later you’re using rounded corners on your own site. It goes the other way too. Sometimes you see ten sites in a single week that use reflections so you consciously make a decision to avoid them.

The point is, when used properly, inspiration will make you a better designer in the same way that reading great novels will make you a better writer, listening to great music will make you a better song writer and visiting the Louvre will make you a better artist. So why not be methodical about it?

The Tools

Now that my rant about inspiration is out of the way, let’s look at a few tools that I think are top-notch ways to collect inspirational design.

LittleSnapper

LittleSnapper is hands down my favorite way to collect, store and organize digital inspiration. This amazing mac application takes screenshots way beyond the default OS X functionality.

screenshot

LittleSnapper allows you to create global shortcuts for screenshots just like the core OS X tool but instead of popping up on your desktop or clipboard, they are imported and stored in a library. Here you can title your snaps, organize them into folders and smart folders and tag them. Think of it as iPhoto for screenshots (you can also use iPhoto to store inspiration by the way).

You can easily snap a specific window, a certain area of the screen or the entire screen. One of the killer features is that you can snap an entire web page straight from Safari. Not just the portion visible on the screen mind you, the whole thing. You can also use the integrated browser to select certain images on a web page and LS will grab them automatically.

Little Snapper supports exporting snaps to a web service called Ember, which we’ll discuss next.

Ember

The LittleSnapper guys have also created Ember, a free browser-based tool for sharing images (LittleSnapper not required). It’s basically a social network for designers to collect and share inspiration (like Dribbble but not as exclusive).

screenshot

You can upload up to 30 images per month (unlimited for $24/yr). You can follow other users as well as favorite, tag and categorize images. Ember contains over 200,000 images to browse so it’s an excellent place to get lost for an hour in great design examples.

For other sites that let you find and favorite inspiration, check out Creattica and Dribbble.

ZooTool

ZooTool is a free social bookmarking tool cool enough to make me abandon Delicious in a heartbeat (after I easily imported all my Delicious content of course).

The reason it’s so much better is that rather than keeping a simple list of bookmarks like Delicious, ZooTool takes a snapshot of the page you’re bookmarking for a visual reference. You can either grab an entire web page or just specific parts such as an image or movie.

screenshot

Your bookmarks are presented in an beautiful interface that would be almost indistinguishable from that of LittleSnapper if not for some added wood texture.

As with Ember, ZooTool allows you to organize and tag your snaps as well as follow other users and favorite their images. ZooTool’s convenient bookmarklet makes it about the best tool around for quickly saving bits of inspiration while browsing the web.

Evernote

If you don’t know what Evernote is, you’ve surely been living alone in the woods with no Internet access. Evernote is the single best free way to capture random digital clutter. This includes everything from passwords to receipts.

screenshot

Odds are, you haven’t just given up being a hermit and have either heard of Evernote or are among the 3 million people that already use it. However, you may not have ever considered using it to store digital inspiration. If you have Evernote installed, you can simply right-click on any image you see online and add it to Evernote. It’s that easy! You can also add entire web pages this way but the CSS tends to get screwed up in the process (“add page as PDF” is a little more reliable).

Once it’s in Evernote, you can tag and organize to your heart’s content and view all your inspiration as a page of thumbnails. You can also sync to both an online account with a web interface and to any other device where you have Evernote installed: other computers, iPhones, iPads, etc.

Snipi

Snipi is a free web service that’s a lot like ZooTool. You use a bookmarklet or Firefox plugin to collect elements as you’re browsing the web. You can grab images, videos or products and organize them in your account. You can also create “streams” of content and share them with others.

screenshot

I found it to be a little clunky, but definitely worth checking out if you don’t like ZooTool for some reason.

Stixi

Stixi is an awesome web app that I stumbled upon while researching this article. With Stixi you can create digital boards of positionable content (like a bulletin board of sticky notes). You can upload images and documents, add todos, or write notes.

screenshot

This would be an excellent tool for creating and maintaining moodboards for specific projects or simply organizing visual inspiration in a highly interactive manner.

What do You Use?

Now that you’ve seen my all-star list of inspiration collection and organization tools, use the comments below to share your favorites.

Let us know if it’s a Mac, PC or web app and what killer feature made you choose it over other options available

Comments & Discussion

44 Comments

Comments & Discussion

44 Comments

  1. I really like ember. The only thing sucks is the amount of uploads a month for free account is horrible.

  2. Jacob says:

    LittleSnapper got me into collecting digital inspiration, but I found it too buggy, a slow process to add things, and it took up way too much HD space (like iPhoto).

    So for a while I used to have a inspiration bookmark folder in my browser.

    I have a delicious account, but because I can’t see what I’ve bookmarked, I keep that for saving articles and other interesting stuff.

    But this week I discovered ZooTool and LOVE IT! It’s fast, works on any browser, anywhere, doesn’t eat up HD space, very simple to use, and the bookmarklet is kickass.

  3. Sandra says:

    I use a snapshot tool for firefox and capture my favorite websites, but that is a bit annoying. Is there something like LittleSnapper for Windows??? Haven’t found something like that yet :( My boss uses it as well and it looks pretty cool.

  4. Clervius says:

    I use the Snippy plugin for Chrome. It works great and organizes and sends everything to my Google Docs

  5. mryap says:

    I just use posterous. You can tag video, screenshoot and even parts of the content you come across online.

    Example: http://sharingnotes.posterous.com/

  6. Laira says:

    Such a nice work Thanks for the posting

  7. Derick says:

    Jing is a nice tool that allows you to use snagit or camtasia tools to create snapshots or small desktop recording and save it to a web space (screencast.com).

  8. arnold says:

    its easy , you can download lightshot it is a standalone app and can be an addon also for firefox ,chrome,IE. and in firefox there are also an add on called fireshot ,its easy to use also .

  9. Kristen says:

    I have a huge collection already, so while I’d love to use one of these apps I think it’d take too long to load in my existing collection.

    Currently I just use Fireshot (firefox screenshot plugin) to capture, save to a folder on my Dropbox (so it’s viewable at home and work) and then just view them in Bridge.

  10. SkullSplitter says:

    I am using WebSnapShot an Adobe Flex Tool :)

  11. Jörn says:

    I use LittleSnapper and drop the library inside my Dropbox-Folder. So I can use the library on my laptop and office.

  12. eduardo says:

    Memonic.com is also a great tool to collect stuff from internet

  13. jenngrover says:

    OneNote…flexible virtual notebook that allows you to paste numerous media types, grab screens, insert audio recordings, and even pull text from images and pdf’s…plus easy to share the notebook, section, or page with others or to Office Live.

    Windows 7 was my idea and Office 2010rocks. :)

  14. Those are great for images.

    To quickly collect share lists and notes on inspirational designs, as well as design presentations, I use http://kartme.com

    http://kartme.com/phil/web-design

  15. Really a great list of applications.

  16. Rachel says:

    I tend to just save inspirational sites as bookmarks in Delicious with a particular tag alongside relevant ones such as colours, what elements stand out whether its illustration based, typographic etc. It makes it really easy to find them wherever I am. I recently bought Mood Boards for the iPad but haven’t used it much yet.

  17. Excellent collection of sites. Thanks for the great resources.

  18. John says:

    I’m using ibrii and it’s pretty neat

  19. claudia says:

    thanks for the list!

    Just FYI Zootool import feature is broken, so you cannot import from Delicious.

  20. Nathan says:

    I use imgspark.com

  21. Thank you for sharing has been nice knowing I’m constantly sharing
    and keep track of your shares I would like to share my very nice and informative shares

  22. Rizwan says:

    I use Voila to take screenshots of websites, buttons, footers etc. that I like. It is easy to organize them and upload them to Flickr.

  23. Anne says:

    I use http://pinboard.in/ (Pinboard). There’s a tiny one-time sign-up fee (which was just over six dollars last time i checked); but it’s a pleasure to use, and there are no ads ever. If you want something free which offers a nice look, friendly community, and good support, i suggest http://gnolia.com/ (Gnolia).

    For everything else, http://www.tumblr.com/ (Tumblr) is extremely flexible. (Personally, i found Posterous to have some unfortunate drawbacks.)

  24. Sneh Roy says:

    I was using Delicious .. giving ZooTool a whirl and liking it!

  25. A note on LittleSnapper: if you’re a Chrome user, there is no support for the browser. There is a bookmarklet though.

  26. csssample says:

    Excellent blog, Keep posting like this.

  27. pelnosmieci says:

    Most valuable post I’ve read this month. Great content and style. Thanks.
    Zootol is very promising for me.

  28. “With all this inspiration being tossed at you all the time, you need a way to catalog and store it.”: Licorize http://licorize.com has been built exactly with this aim in mind.

    Licorize too is a bookmarking service that “takes a snapshot of the page you’re bookmarking for a visual reference”, but that still is not enough, our idea being that a purely visual approach does not model the concept, the idea that needs to be captured and preserved while bookmarking (in short: “no bookmark is an island”). Bookmarking can be the entry point of a set of idea that constitutes a project, a research, shared work.

    Licorize is web based but has plugins/extensions for most browsers and also a mobile iPhone and android friendly version.

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